Former Courant Watchdog details what led to his dismissal

August 16, 2009
By
Official statement from George Gombossy
Editor & Publisher of CtWatchdog.com

I surrendered my Hartford Courant press badge to my editors Aug. 14, ending four decades of employment at the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper.

The Courant fired me, for speaking out on issues of public concern as the paper’s Watchdog columnist: as the voice and protector of consumers and taxpayers.
Levine made it clear he was not happy with my role to be the advoctate for consumers, with the freedom to engage attorneys, detectives, accountants – whatever it took to take on businesses or politicans that were mistreating the little guy.

Levine also sent the message that he did not want me to scrutinize ads of the paper’s largest advertisers to see if they were misleading or potentially fraudulent.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past year I wrote several columns and blog items based on complaints against one of the state’s largest plumbing contractors – apparently a potential major Courant advertiser – that took advantage of the elderly and that state authorities were and are investigating.
After the meeting I immediately informed our then interim editor, Naedine Hazell, of what Levine told me. Naedine was unable to attend the meeting. She agreed with me that Levine was not acting properly and said she would attend the next meeting on this issue.
 
Jeff, Naedine and I met a few days later, where Jeff said he was no longer interested in me going to Aiello’s offices, but said that from then on, any column I had that had any negative mention of a KEY advertiser, had to be approved by him.
 
One complaint included evidence from an exterminator that the box spring delivered was used and infested with bedbugs. All of the information was on the record from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and documents provided by his office and from those who had filed written complaints with Blumenthal.

I followed the new rules from Levine and informed my editors that this column had to be done to alert the public. There was immediate resistance from my editors – and the column still has not run in the Courant. It has in the new website I launched Friday night  – CTWATCHDOG.com

The finished column answered all questions my editors had raised –  including some of a type never before asked about in even more sensitive columns. But it was not published as scheduled on Aug. 2, and I was given no explanation. Never before had a story or column disclosing an investigation by the state Attorney General had been held back in the 40 years that I worked at The Courant.

While I am the latest victim at the Courant, this is not about me. This is about the betrayal of public trust and the implication it has for the free exchange of ideas in America.
 
This does not come from some socialist who is anti-business.
 
Having been born in Hungary where I was forced to live under communism until we escaped in 1956, I am a firm believer in free newspapers and in capitalism.
 
I was the business editor of The Courant for 12 years, longer than any of my predecessors. I was a member of The Courant’s New Business Committee which studied new business opportunities for the newspaper.
I was a board member of the Society of American Business Writers and Editors, where I served on the Audit and Contest Committees.

In my 40 years I have never had any criticism in my evaluations. I will make them available to anyone who wants to see them.
 
To preserve the principle that I feel so passionate about, I have to make public what has transpired.
The Watchdog was not really the George Gombossy column – it was the people’s column. It was designed that way by me and the initial editors, and that is why it was successful. About 8,000 readers had sent me complaints and suggestions during the past three years.

The Courant didn’t just fire me and kill my column, The Courant fired the readers and killed their column.
And as to the only public comment made by the publisher about me, that I was a disgruntled employee, I was one of the happiest staffers at The Courant.

 I was probably the only one who didn’t have an update resume. I loved what I did, helping our readers – what job can be better than that. And that is why in the last week former staffers – now web designers – Jeanne Leblanc and Tom Twitchell worked round the clock to have Ctwatchdog.com up and running 8 hours after I turned my badge in.
 Advertisers don’t take out ads because they like the columnists or reporters. They take out ads based on a newspaper’s circulation, which is based on its credibility. The less credibility a newspaper has, the less readers it should have. And if that happens everyone will suffer consequences beyond our ability to now measure.
Geroge Gombossy
President
Ctwatchdog.com
ggombossy@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

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29 Responses to Former Courant Watchdog details what led to his dismissal

  1. Les Wilson on August 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Bravo for you, Mr. Gombossy! Our world would be a better place if more people had your integrity and courage.

  2. Can't Say on August 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    This is what happens when you have an Advertising/Marketing guy installed as Publisher .

    I’d love to post my name George , but I’ve got over 25 years under my belt at what was once a fine paper before it was gutted by Tribune to prop up “shareholder profit” .

    In other words , I need my bi-weekly paycheck and I don’t trust the current management .

    How I would love for The Courant to be sold off , sold to the employees as was foisted upon them by Zell .
    Maybe get back some of the people who really had their finger on the pulse of Connecticut .

  3. […] Gombossy has fired another round in the exchange between him and The Courant regarding his […]

  4. Gary Weiss on August 18, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Hey George, I’ve been following your situation on my blog. I mainly write about Wall Street, but I think what’s happening at the Courant has significant national implications.

    Gary Weiss
    Groton/Middletown Bureaus (many years ago)

  5. Mr G on August 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Outstanding article just found you in an article in our local paper,sounds like the paper Norwalk .Just bookmarked your site I’m clearly on board.I look forewood to reading your entire site and continue to log on.It seems a lot of editors are simply stuck on the very same problem,Hearst has a slew of papers having the same problem.Soon every paper they have in Ct will look the same,the web sites are already there.Generic news isn’t going to sell anymore.

  6. Matt Stevens on August 18, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks George. Thanks for standing up. It probably won’t change much. The whole industry is diseased now. But those of us who respect the profession the way it was appreciate what you’ve done.

  7. Ernie (you know last name) on August 18, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Westarted at the paper at about the same time (1971) You on the editorial side and me on the busines side.I handled some of the biggest accounts we had and I was always careful to differientiate to them the paper’s responsibility to seperste the role of the “4th estate” from thr business side of things. A newspaper needs to have credibility and objectivity for its readers. In short, if they believe the editorial content, they’ll believe the advertising content. You and I were there at a “good time”….but let’s face it…it’s gone. The powers that be have prostituted themselves for the sake of the almighty dollar.

  8. gladys on August 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Reading this has made me very glad indeed that, lo these twenty-one years ago, when it was time for me to choose my career path and a college major to match, family finances kept me from journalism school, which would have been my first choice.

    My subsequent career path, best described as “free-floating technologically-adept disillusioned slacker”, has at least had the benefit of allowing me to earn my ramen noodles and Mountain Dew unhampered by these sort of disgusting and unethical demands. (An especially good thing, because I am conflict-averse to the highest degree.)

    In short: I don’t believe I could have done your job, sir, and I admire you for standing firm. I wish there were more like you, and fewer of the other breed.

    (Incidentally: I am FROM Chicago, and even we are pretty well exasperated with the Tribune’s management. I can only imagine what they’ve done to the papers in OTHER cities, where people can’t throw rocks at their property.)

  9. Michael N on August 18, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    George, I always thought of The Hartford Courant as the only paper that wouldn’t be afraid to tell it the way it is. I am now very saddened. It’s clear money comes before the truth. The Courant better make this right. I also think everyone in CT knows Aiello is crooked. They lie and take advantage of people who don’t know better. I wish you the best, Michael

  10. Ernie (you know last name) on August 18, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Between the two of us we have 80 years of service to the paper. What happened? You wrote and I sold advertising. What happened to integrity? Years ago (many years ago) there was a story that said “Plymouth police cars found unsafe” Chrysler pulled a lot of ads. The story wwas about the police cars in the town of Plymouth. Nothing has changed! Take your retirement nad enjoy it.

  11. Watchdog Update on August 18, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    […] And George is pushing back big time. If even half of what George says is true, then it’s appalling. This is a developing story […]

  12. Wayne on August 18, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Dear sir, You are what we call in Texas, The end all ,be all. It is a great honor to see that some one is not afraid to stand up and do whats right. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You,You have breathed a new found respect in an old time way of life. DOING IT HONESTLY !

  13. Debbie on August 18, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks for standing up for all of us. This is why I do not subscribe to any newspapers. I am sick and tired of them trying to get me to believe as they do. I can think for myself. Newspapers are suppose to report Not try to manipulate.

  14. former journalist on August 18, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    This is indeed demoralizing. Editors at good newspapers do not act this way. The Courant used to be a good newspaper. Obviously, it is not anymore.

  15. Jeff on August 19, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Your integrity and sense of fairness was always obvious in your columns. I applaud you sticking to your principles even as it cost you your job. I was a long time subscriber to the Courant until June…as there wasn’t much worth reading with all the cutbacks. A blessing that you are now off the fast sinking titanic.

  16. john doe on August 19, 2009 at 2:14 am

    “one of the state’s largest plumbing contractors”

    you named sleepies but not the contractor? who was it?

    • George Gombossy on August 19, 2009 at 5:20 am

      Aiello

  17. T-Man on August 19, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Somewhat lost in all the personalities here is the mention of the State of Connecticut as being on the list of KEY (and thus theoretically protected) Advertisers. This should scare the the be-jesus out of any citizen reader. Bedbugs and bad plumbing are one thing, but covering up or ignoring government malfeasance for the cost of an ad, now that’s truly frightening! No wonder they didn’t need PAZ anymore.

  18. arlene on August 19, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Thank you, George for keeping us informed.

  19. Mike Sullivan on August 19, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    keep pushing George – get this story to go national and then you will have them

    if true that they distributed a list of advertisers to reporters and columnists that said “don’t touch” then that is the end of them

    heads will roll

  20. Ed Creem on August 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    George —
    As a long time reader of your column I can not begin to tell you how sad I was to see your final column the other day. I knew there had to be more to the story. So thank you for filling us in.

    If it were not for the fact that The Courant is delivered to me almost for free, I wouldn’t bother to subscribe. There is nothing in it. The Courant and most newspapers for that matter are in a free fall to oblivion. It is a sad state of affairs for our Republic. Every day the average citizen becomes less and less informed because of the collapse of newspapers and local radio. Leaving only TV as a source of news where at least on the local level, most reporters wouldn’t know a real news story if it hit them in the face!

    I wish you well in whatever you do next. I hope you will continue with your CTWatchdog blog.

  21. lilewis on August 19, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I was an avid reader of your column, and I’m sorry to see your column end. I thought you did a great job in making known (and resolving) many problems that much of the public deals with, particularly with large organizations.

    It’s unfortunate that you were unable to publish your Sleepy’s article in early August. It would have saved my daughter some grief.
    Below is a cut/paste of an email I just sent to Ct Atty. Gen. Bloomfield after reading the article about Sleepy’s in the Courant this AM:

    “I read the article that appeared in today’s Hartford Courant regarding your office and Sleepy’s and thought it was appropriate that I advise you of an incident my daughter had with Sleepy’s about 2 weeks ago.

    Although her problem wasn’t related to bed bugs, the Courant article re-inforced our impression they did sell bedding as ‘new’ that did have some other history to it.

    My daughter bought 2 twin mattresses and box springs from Sleepy’s in Manchester for $800 for her two young children, 3 yrs and 5 yrs old. We picked them up ourselves at the E. Windsor warehouse and when we got home to Vernon and brought them inside, I noticed that there was a lot of moisture trapped on the inside of the heavy plastic that the mattresses were sealed in. There were no holes or tears in the plastic where moisture could have entered after it was sealed. It caught my attention but not enough to complain at the time, even though the surface of the mattress felt damp when we cut the heavy plastic off and placed the mattresses on the bed frames in the bedroom.

    Within hours the bedroom had an unpleasant odor. and when my daughter called Sleepy’s they were not receptive to switching the mattresses with new ones. At first they said no, then I took over the phone, and explained to them the moisture and odor made me worried about mold. They finally agreed to come out and switch them at a cost to her of $90. When I told them that was unacceptable, they dropped the charge to $45. I then told them $45 was unacceptable because I believed no mattress factory would seal mattresses in an environment that locked in humidity and that the mattresses must have been opened then re-sealed in plastic on a humid day, and that the odor may have been mold and we shouldn’t have to pay anything for their replacements. Their response was that they never had that complaint before and there was nothing more they could offer,

    It wasn’t until I threatened to write to your office that they agreed to replace the mattresses at no cost, which they did a few days later.

    Although I think we resolved our problem with Sleepy’s, I do believe they sold us ‘repackaged’ mattresses. I suspect because we resolved our complaint that it won’t help your investigation much, but our experience may give your office more cause to continue to look deeper into their practices.

  22. Connie and Don Reder on August 19, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    George,

    My husband was about to write to you about having been double billed by our medical provider, a practice with wide-ranging implications, when he opened the Sunday paper and was shocked to read your final column.  Although we were very disappointed at your “retirement,” we were stunned to read of your dismissal from The Courant for doing your job in the only way you could.

    The problem with you, George, is you not only have principles, but also the courage to put them on the line, which the current management obviously finds both distasteful and hugely inconvenient.

    We hope the Courant receives such a deluge of outraged letters that they are forced to devote several opinion pages to printing them all. We not only plan to be among those writing to them, but their action against you may well have been the tipping point for us to cancel a subscription we have had for over 40 years. 

    Meanwhile, we want the Courant to know that if we wanted our news slanted, distorted, censored and craven, we’d just listen to Fox News all day instead of buying their newspaper.

     

  23. J L Feld on August 20, 2009 at 6:42 am

    All Connecticut consumers just lost a best friend. George investigated how companies were screwing the public, propane gas dealers, oil companies, CL&P and their malfunctioning electric meters, plumbers, water companies, companies selling used mattresses and box springs and much more.

    I used to read every column George wrote and inform family members about ones that I thought would interest them. With egg on their faces I am sure the Courant won’t bring George back no matter how readers feel about this. Perhaps another paper will pick him up and his column real soon.

    What scares me, the fact management at the Courant (the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country) is acting like the people running our country, only tell the public what YOU want them to know. Lie and hide the facts that may hurt you.

    The new management at the Hartford Courant is taking the newspaper on a fast trip down the t—–, you fill in the blanks.

  24. Randy on August 20, 2009 at 7:43 am

    George,
    I appericate your time,effort and unbias reporting, when it comes to assisting others with issues that concern them.
    Recently I had found a past column written by you, during your days at the Courant.
    I was reading the post that were attached to this story line, (submitted by readers and regarding complaints), which contained some 61 people whom had a bad experences towards that Company which was being written about.
    Your Line was explaining their aquistion of warranty plans of a now defuncted Company.
    As I attempted to Load the hyperlink, (which I had saved as a favorite), to look for any response to my querry or additional comments from others, I came to find the page would open, then quickly close and open unto a attached page..Hmm
    I later found out that you were no longer employed by said Company and I may have been the unforunate person to initate afore mentioned paper to take such an action against your former posted articles .
    Sorry.
    so I wrote a letter to the Editor of the Courant and wanted to bring this issue to Light to them, you and your readers.

    Letter to the Editor of Curant , submitted via Letter to editor page
    as follows

    Letter to the Editor

    I had a Troubling thought, when I returned to view a post by former employee reguarding failure of Company to honor warranty requests.
    I find it strange that 1 week after I posted a hyperlink from a past tag line in the courant,”written by a recently fired employee”,against A Company with mutiple complaints against this carrier(Assurant),and I brought it to their(Assurant) attention, the hyperlink now loads with non related story trying to kill the original tag line and complaints. The Story also is not searchable in the archives…
    It would appear to me as if Possibly Assurant got to Someone at the Courant to pull strings for them to remove or bury the bad Blogs reguarding poor service.

    Maybe this isn’t the place to bring this issue to light, but it concerns me that The courant would take steps to do this, But I did noticed that Assurant has sponsered links on their site at the bottom of the page….
    Sorry again

    http://blogs.courant.com/george_gombossy/2009/01/circuit-city-warranties-backed.html

  25. T-Man on August 20, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Dear MR. Dog — Did you edit this blog post to remove previous listing of actual KEY advertisers identified by your former employers — the list that mentioned the State and a Casino? If so, Why and can you re-publish this list? Be nice to know who they want to treat with kid golves. Thnx

  26. […] I don’t need to repeat all the allegations – they are available here. […]

  27. Omnifrog on August 22, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Good job George. It’s getting harder to find good journalism. Also, have you thought about using a creative commons license for your work here?

  28. Ilene Coman on January 13, 2010 at 5:28 am

    When I found out about your CT Watchdog articles about the CT Humane Society, it hit me that I had missed your articles at the Courant, and I wondered what happened. You were a super investigative journalist and I always looked forward to reading your articles. I did send in an email to you once but the issue with the merchant was solved so I wrote back not to bother looking into it. It gave me such reassurance to know you were there.
    But the Courant is only a shadow of what it used to be and its failings the last couple years are so noticeable. I have been considering stopping my subscription to it. It was with such comfort to see your name back up on an investigative articles. The name CT Watchdog is perfect! As for the investigations that Richard Blumenthal is doing, there are limits to what he can check on where an investigative journalist can look into more things for consumers. Where some things are illegal, there are the things that are just unethical and bad business traits. You can look into both. I am so glad that you are here to continue the fight for consumers.
    Thank you for your 40 years at the Courant!
    And for continuing to fight for the consumers of this state.

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